Wellington Scoop

Way ahead of us – we should be copying Auckland

While it’s true that Wellington is the coolest little capital on the planet and that you can’t beat the place on any of our many good days, it’s instructive to get out once in a while and see how other cities are shaping up. The big surprise: Auckland is a long way ahead of us in public transport.

A visit up north to see the All Blacks crush Australia at the weekend highlighted the differences between them and us. Not so long ago, it was a truism that Auckland was swamped with cars and didn’t have a public transport network worth the name – it was practically a poster child for the dysfunction that comes from trying to build your way out of traffic congestion. With much justification, us Wellingtonians could point and laugh.

Not any more.

For starters, the Uber trip from Auckland airport to the CBD on a Friday afternoon was both faster and cheaper than the equivalent in Wellington when we flew back this morning. The much-maligned Waterview tunnel has delivered a much smoother trip on the Auckland end, while at the Wellington end the substantial increase in Eastern suburbs traffic due to the bustastrophe has delivered ridiculous levels of congestion.

If you want to see the huge and negative impacts that a public transport disaster can have on traffic volumes, all you have to do is try and get from Miramar to the CBD at 8am on a Monday. And this is before Auckland gets any serious public transport links to its airport…

The second major surprise in Auckland was how good (and cheap) the public transport is. The buses, trains and ferries all use Auckland Transport’s AT Hop card, which is just like Snapper – only it works everywhere.

As we all know, integrated ticketing across the buses, trains and ferries is one of those never-never items on the ‘Greater’ Wellington Regional Council’s work programme, where no-one seriously believes it’s ever going to be delivered. Auckland is proof that the problem is GWRC, not the technology. Even the AT Hop phone app was better than its Wellington equivalent (although it’s still not truly great). The real time information in Auckland isn’t perfect, but it seems less a work of fiction than its Wellington equivalent.

Fares are cheap as well. On the City Link bus that took us around the Viaduct and Queen Street and K Road, we got on and off at 50 cents a time – a far cry from the exorbitant rates GWRC charge for a casual trip from the railway station to Courtenay Place. And while we didn’t try any long-distance commuting – which would have undoubtedly been more expensive – the sense was that we could travel further for less than in Wellington.

Best of all, Auckland is actually investing in public transport rather than just endlessly talking about it. The City Link railway project is tearing a huge hole in the CBD, but it’s hard to argue with either the vision or the scale of investment, and it’s obvious that it will make a big difference to the train system – where patronage is apparently much higher than projections. It seems a city can build its way out of congestion … one train station at a time.

And speaking of vision, Auckland mayor Phil Goff was campaigning furiously over the weekend. He had this to say about climate change and transport:

Auckland mayoral hopeful Phil Goff has pledged to scrap diesel buses and electrify part of the south Auckland rail line if he is re-elected for a second term. This would include ensuring council purchased only electric and hybrid vehicles as passenger cars, and converting Auckland’s bus fleet to electric and hydrogen. Under his mayoralty, “the days of dirty diesel buses on Auckland’s streets will be numbered”. Goff said he would also push for the electrification of the railway from Papakura to Pukekohe under the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, to start as early as next year. Clean transport was a key part of “tackling our climate change and environment challenges” as well as making Auckland a “better place to live”, he said.

Compare and contrast with Wellington, where our Labour-led (and if the party has its way, Labour-dominated) council have policies that will apparently transform the city in a much more humble way:

As the July school holidays finish, the Labour candidates for the Wellington City Council are pledging to make school holidays in Wellington more exciting for residents and visitors by introducing a coordinated programme of events and activities for children and young people.

Um, yeah. Admittedly these aren’t directly policies from Justin Lester, but the last time we checked his website it was still showing policies from his 2016 campaign, had a bunch of broken links and the “Latest” section was a collection of random tweets. So the incumbent Auckland mayor is ahead of our Wellington incumbent mayor as well, both in vision and in execution.

We don’t need to look overseas for examples of how to make public transport better – we can just look as far as Auckland.


  1. Tony Jansen, 19. August 2019, 13:18

    Absolutely right on the money. Party politics and “professional politicians” have kept Wellington in inertia for years. All we have got has been a never ending talkfest, instead of actually deciding on something and getting it started. It hasn’t been “Let’s Get Wellington Moving” but more like “Let’s Keep Wellington Talking”. There is no point endlessly talking without action.
    If you want business as usual then vote for the same old people this election. And no doubt we will continue talking and doing nothing. If you want real change, then vote for some of the Independents standing who are largely from amongst us and share your frustration. We have a burning desire to get things done.
    The definition of lunacy is doing the same thing over and over all the while expecting a different outcome, so what have you got to lose?.
    If you vote for me or another Independent, don’t make them a lone wolf. Vote some like minded Independents in so they have support and cannot be easily marginalised.
    If you have had enough, then Vote Tony Jansen No.1 for GWRC. It’s time for a Change.

  2. Guy M, 19. August 2019, 13:42

    Interesting, Tony Jansen. One of the biggest problems we have with the GWRC elections is that we (the public) have absolutely no idea who the people are running for GWRC – we never see them, they never speak to the public, and they publish a one page statement in the voting booklet if we are lucky. And yet, they are the most important politicians really, as they are currently holding our city to ransome.

    It is good that Laidlaw and co have gone, but we are going to need way more than a random answer on a blog post for you to convince me to vote for you. Do you have a website where we can read about who you are and why we should vote for you? Are you out knocking on doors? Where do we meet you? What are your qualifications for the job? Give us the reasons why we (the whole of the public) should vote for Jansen?

  3. Mason, 19. August 2019, 13:44

    It’s a shambles alright! All those change-resistant nimbys will have to keep in touch with their children and grandchildren via Skype because they won’t have stayed around in Wellington.

  4. Mike Mellor, 19. August 2019, 15:33

    Guy M: opportunities to see and hear GWRC (and other) candidates are listed here.
    Particularly relevant to GWRC candidates are two transport-related meetings – details here.

  5. Ben Schrader, 19. August 2019, 17:12

    Yes, it’s a very sad state of affairs that we’ve lost not only the mantle of being New Zealand’s cultural capital to Auckland in recent years, but also the status of being its public transport capital. Auckland is now well ahead of Wellington in terms of shared (largely pedestrianised) spaces in the CBD, shaping a city-wide cycle network and encouraging public transport.

    Like Guy, I’m pleased Laidlaw is going. Barbara Donaldson should follow his lead. Their performance in overseeing the destruction of what was once the best and most environmentally sustainable public transport system in New Zealand has been shameful and history will judge them accordingly. Hopefully new and more visionary leadership in the GWRC will be able to reverse Welly’s decline.

  6. Kay, 19. August 2019, 17:13

    Guy mentions Chris Laidlaw not standing this time. However Barbara Donaldson of Porirua who was chairperson of the Transport Committee of GWRC is standing again. She’s keen on standing and got buses to remove seats and told bus users we should get used to standing. I’m not in the Porirua Ward so I can’t vote for her competitors. Will she get back in and continue acting exactly the same on buses?

  7. David Mackenzie, 20. August 2019, 6:47

    It is ironic that we had to make our public transport as bad as Auckland’s so that we could learn how to take Auckland as a model to improve our bus-catastrophe.

  8. PCGM, 20. August 2019, 16:11

    Stuff is reporting why congestion around the city has become so bad:

    “Nicole Martin-Lupp caught the bus into Wellington’s CBD for 13 years. She now takes the car or taxi instead. The Northland resident is one of many affected by last year’s bus network changes, with her direct route to the city removed and subsequent journey taking up to twice as long. Martin-Lupp said two peak-time buses previously travelled through the central city from her home on Pembroke Rd. Now, one stopped at Brandon St, which was a “mosh pit” of people getting on and off, and the other stopped at Wellington Railway Station. Both were about 10 minutes’ walk from her Willis St stop, meaning she had to either catch two buses or walk the remaining distance. The whole journey could take up to 50 minutes, whereas it used to take between 12 and 20 minutes, she said. “Because it’s so cheap, I usually Uber in to work in the mornings, and catch a ride home with my husband in the evenings. He’s started driving in to work as well.”

    So those now interminably slow trips in and out of the city, the wasted time, the increased emissions and the decrease in the quality of life in Wellington? In the last 12 months, the vast majority of it can be firmly laid at the feet of the “Greater” Wellington Regional Council. Who, to add insult to injury, raised their rates take by more than 12% this year, presumably to make the point that incompetence doesn’t come cheap.

  9. Concerned Wellingtonian, 20. August 2019, 16:41

    Most of the 12% rates increase went to Wellington so that other ratepayers paid less.
    The increase in Porirua apparently was only 1% and yet they have more buses.

  10. Mike Mellor, 20. August 2019, 17:12

    DM: Auckland’s public transport is now pretty good. AT used the opportunity that the previous government’s PTOM system presented to introduce a pretty good new network pretty well; GWRC used the same opportunity to introduce a poorly-thought-through network pretty badly. (Hubs are still not complete, and there are still many 15-year-old polluting buses on city streets.) To make it worse, during the process they kept on implying that everything would be better for everyone, when they must have known that that was not going to be the case.

    There’s a simple matrix to describe decision-making, putting actions into four categories, of doing:
    the Right Things Right (RTR);
    the Right Things Wrong (RTW);
    the Wrong Things Right (WTR); and
    the Wrong Things Wrong (WTW).

    Put simply, AT did RTR, GWRC did WTW. Fortunately one of the people who did RTR in Auckland is now running the process to get us out of the GWRC WTW mess, so there is still hope!

    PCGM: individual experiences are valuable, but public transport is about groups rather than individuals. Just as people in the example quoted have been affected badly, so there are people who will be better off (e.g. people with new services in the evenings and weekends). Human stories make things readable but are not necessarily representative. That’s why we need proper data on things like congestion and patronage, and careful analysis to identify cause and effect.